Courtesy of the Mount Rainier Institute

A middle school student from Tacoma smells a tree core sample immediately after being removed from the increment bore.
Courtesy of the Mount Rainier Institute A middle school student from Tacoma smells a tree core sample immediately after being removed from the increment bore.

Mount Rainier Institute is a popular, fun way to get schoolkids outside and learning about the environment. It also just so happens to be a recipient of state grant funds.

Governor Jay Inslee announced that close to $1.5 million in grants are being awarded to employ veterans and help kids connect with nature as part of the “No Child Left Inside” program. The Mount Rainier Institute, a University of Washington partner program, was awarded $37,481 through the grant.

Programs across 18 Washington counties will get funding through the grant, a pet project of the Governor. Inslee said that his fondest childhood memories were being outside, and he believes many of our kids today do not get that opportunity. He believes that when kids spend time outside, their health and their grades can improve.

Kids can get that outside time at Mount Rainier Institute, an outdoor school that provides nature based education rooted in science to help nurture environmental stewards and leaders. It hosts overnight school programs where students come to their location at the Pack Forest, just outside of Eatonville. More than 1,300 students each year come from all over the region, from Tacoma, Seattle, eastern Washington and even Oregon.

John Hayes, Mount Rainier Institute director, said the program’s mission lined up with the grant.

“[It’s] an effort to support efforts of getting students outside and doing things,” he said. “That’s precisely what we do. Our take on it is that we are teaching science, field science, environmental science, ecology, and so forth.”

Pierce County received $225,181 from the grant, the second most (after King, with $341,806) of any county in the state.

Hayes said programs like his were filling a desperate need to get children connected with the great outdoors.

“Even if it’s in their back yard, an hour and a half away, most students have not been to Mt. Rainier before,” he said. “It gives them an opportunity to get into the park and explore and learn about this amazing natural resource in our back yard.”

The funding itself will go to help subsidize the cost of the program.

“We may have a group of students that are from a school that’s 85 percent low and reduced lunch rate and couldn’t normally afford a 4-day program,” Hayes said. “We want everyone to come. We believe the University of Washington and Mt. Rainier Institute is an experience for everyone outdoors and is critical for kids. The grant helps fund the costs for those students and enables us to provide and make sure the outdoor school is for all.”

Students from fourth grade to high school partake in programs at Mount Rainier Institute. An advanced placement high school course in environmental science could take place right after a group of Fourth Graders learn about trees.

Started in the fall of 2014, the Institute’s goal has always been to help foster a diverse group of people engaged in the environment, sometimes a costly ideal.

“We are always raising money and looking for grantors and donations. If anyone is interested in making sure kids are learning about environmental science and connecting with what’s in our back yard, help us make that happen,” Hayes said.

One student expressed their thoughts on the program.

“The way I feel about nature has changed greatly. Before Mount Rainier, I had never been hiking, and I have still never been camping. The trip to Mount Rainier has made me want to go hiking and be outside more often,” they said.

Not only are the kids learning skills and science, they are staying active while doing so.

“Research I’ve seen says that even a half hour outside can really boost your health and make you happier,” Hayes said. “This reflects the research that being outside reduces childhood depression and has positive mental health effects. We are trying to open the door and see the outdoors for the kids as its healthy lifestyle.”

The institute is in the middle of its busiest season, until the middle of June. It does host tours and visits, for those interested in seeing where state grants go.